Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Adam Smith

Coronavirus, Rioting, and the Privatization of Morality

A short while ago, we were making political demands on our states, of various kinds. Some of us wanted our governments to do more to stop the spread of the virus and save lives. Some of us wanted our governments to provide more aid, more economic stimulus. But over the last few weeks, we stopped making political demands. We started looking at each other. As governments began re-opening their economies, they tried to make it our responsibility to stop the virus. You are supposed to social distance. You are supposed to wear a mask. In most places, none of this is required by law. In those jurisdictions where the advice has been incorporated into the law, it’s only nominally enforced. But you’re supposed to feel a moral obligation to do these things, and if you don’t do them people will shame you. They’ll yell at you, and maybe they’ll try to use social media to get you fired from your job. The guidelines aren’t enforced by the state–they’re enforced by the people around you. The state doesn’t take responsibility for this informal interpersonal coercion, but it tacitly encourages it. When we’re fighting with each other about whether we should wear masks, we aren’t making demands on the state. If we’re all too busy playing police officer with each other, we won’t have the bandwidth to hold the government to account.

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Why Money Sucks

One of the basic underpinnings of our society is the notion that people like money and are good with money. They like making money, they like deciding what to do with their money, the whole business of business is an endless fascination for them. On top of that, we’re good at using our money to get what we want.  But what if it’s not true? What if, in reality, we hate making financial and business decisions and would rather have it all taken care of by other people? What if we’re actually not very good at spending our money wisely, if, in reality, our tendency is to be irrational and flippant with our funds? There is reason to believe the latter, according to a recent study by Daniel McFadden comparing on an interdisciplinary level what we know about human psychology, neurology, biology, and anthropology with what we think we know about economics (the full study is here, go here for an interview with McFadden).

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